Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fat, broke and ignorant. Is this the best we can do?

I laid a bum trip on my brother yesterday, as the stock market plunged 630 points. I called him up and opined that the S&P credit downgrade was just a milepost on the road to the collapse of civilization as we know it.

Cheerfully, of course.

Not sure it was appreciated. He’s a small business owner trying to navigate the shoals and buffeting winds of our nasty economic condition. A dose of “we are well-and-truly screwed” isn’t especially helpful.

I do that a lot. Can’t help it; I’m a cultural pessimist. Being a student of history will do that to you. After all, it’s all about picking through the ash heap of nations and civilizations that flourished, flowered and fell. Unfortunately, the U.S. keeps throwing up mileposts on the highway to oblivion.

More than 60 percent of Americans are overweight and more than 20 percent qualify as obese. Before anyone accuses me of “fatism,” let me state right here that I’m not advocating government intervention in people’s lifestyle choices. But criminy, folks! How can you create a vigorous culture when you can’t do a pushup? The burdens of obesity-related health problems on our health care system are, well, huge. We all pay for this, one way or another.

America is merely average in international education rankings, which doesn’t bode well for our potential leadership in an information-based economy. A shocking number of people lack basic communication and mathematical skills. This ain’t good, people.

Then there’s the national debt. Sovereign debt is a huge problem across the developed world; we’re not alone here. But it’s grating (if unsurprising) to see a problem that requires wise policy decisions and concerted effort degenerate into a farcical American partisan political circus. I don’t believe for a minute that the folks we send to congress — most of them at least — don’t recognize that getting out of this debt hole will require genuine entitlement reform (that’s where the big money is) and higher taxes. But both left and right are so wedded to zero-sum ideological positions that a comprehensive tackling of the nation’s finances is impossible.

S&P may have been out of line in basing their downgrade on a political judgment (and what's with a $2 trillion math error in the analysis? See above.) Still, they aren’t wrong. We’re dysfunctional and there is little prospect of that changing. And President Obama has got to stop blaming Bush for everything. Seriously. It doesn’t help.

The pessimist in me teeters on the brink of cynicism — a belief that what’s broken can’t be fixed. We're fat, broke and ignorant and we're gonna stay that way. The patriot in me wants to shout: “Is this the best we can do? No! C’mon, get it together America!” The pragmatist says, just do what you can where you are. That’s my brother’s approach and I think he’s got it right. I’ll try not to throw any more buckets of doom his way.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Jim,

    The pragmatist's outlook is the result of the idealist getting the snot kicked out of him for the past couple of years, due to all of the obvious economic factors, and more than a few fluky, close-to-home factors. Still, the idealist is in there yet, and appalled by the continued slide in our American culture, that Jim aptly describes as "fat, broke, and ignorant". America rose to the global forefront on expansionism, hard work, innovation, and being on the right side of a couple of major conflicts. The boomer generation rode the crest of the wave with an ever increasing sense of entitlement, complete with a notion that every generation would be better off than the last, because "that's just how it works". Now, we are being pushed up on the beach by the wash, and wondering where all of that momentum went.

    We need to paddle out, and catch a new wave, and get in tune with the new global model, but it will require a huge, fundamental shift in our collective mindset, and a sea change in focus and priorities. I do not believe that our current political system, or our national "psyche" has the chops to even initiate this kind of change, much less implement it.

    The southern California area where I live is very ethnically diverse, with many immigrants from Korea, China, and Armenia. The general economic success of these recent arrivals, versus the indigenous 3rd, 4th and 5th generation Americans, born into the same opportunities, is testament to their work ethic, ambition, and the value of "new blood". Their children tend to excel in school, they are very family oriented, and yes, very few of them are obese. My daughter recently graduated from the same high school that Jim and I did, so many years ago. There was one Smith listed in the program. There were thirty two Kim's (I counted). America is still the place to be, if you are willing to put in the work.

    Until we wake up as a culture, and resolve to do the hard things, the right things, and keep doing them until the ship is righted, we will continue to fade on the global scene, economically and in political relevance. As Jim points out, history is littered with failed civilizations, that rose to great heights, only to fall. I just think that we should be able to get a much longer run out of ourselves than we are showing. I keep hoping that Teddy Roosevelt will run in 2012.

    Until he, or someone like him does, the pragmatist will hunker down and do what he feels is best in the short term for him, his business, and his family. Hopefully, that will also translate into activities that the idealist would favor, as well.

    John C.

  2. Jim,

    There is a good reason why "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is the #1 surprise blockbuster of the summer/fall season.

    Need I say more?

  3. The plunge in the market is just another affirmation that the investor class is robbing middle America blind. They have accomplished over the last few years the largest transfer of wealth fro the poor and middle class to the Rich ever accomplished.

    S&P Had to stay with thier down grade even after their math was proven to be wrong because they told all their big customers to short the market.

    let the global fleecing begin!!

    Now you wait and see... The proposed "Tax Reform" the tea party wants will amount to raising taxes on the poor and middle class while cutting taxes on the wealthy and powerful. The best part is, that any one who points out what is going on, is accused of engaging in class warfare.

  4. Tea Party???

    Great. Another Maxine Waters wanna-be :(

  5. I don't "wanna be" anyone but me. You wait and see. Taxes on the poor and middle class will be raised, on the wealthy and powerful will be cut. Already in the works. Lets just call it the tea party payroll tax increase of Jan 2012. The are already advocating it.

  6. The latest information shows roughly 45% of this country's potential taxpayers don't pay taxes at all.

    That would be primarily the poor or below the poverty line or those that have simply elected to stop paying taxes.

    Meaning 55% pay some form of taxes.

    Meaning the tax burden in this country is and has been for some time out of balance regardless if one is "rich" or "upper middle class" or "middle class"...or simply a responsible taxpayer.

    What is out of control is government spending (irresponsible and unaccountable - i.e. $60 Billion in taxpayer funds wasted or stolen in Iraq/Afghanistan to date). This is regardless of the Party in power or President at the helm.

    Class warfare has always been the strategy of the simple minded.

    With often horrific political results and genuine oppression/exploitation of "the people".

    Again, another Maxine Waters "wanna be".

  7. Postscript -


    We are presently at roughly 21% unemployment (there is no such thing as "underemployment" - that's dual Party political gibberish).

    Many of the recent past and current unemployed were employed and likely paid taxes, political affiliation aside.

    The most recent polls show Congress has a 12% confidence approval. That's an 88% no-confidence statement in our federal government's elected officials.

    President Obama, three years into his tenure, has the international stature of former President Jimmy Carter. Meaning he's a nice enough guy but essentially without meaningful influence.

    2012 election wise our country is currently fielding perhaps the least qualified, least competent, least influential, least capable candidates in our history and that includes the incumbent.

    An aside - if George Bush Jr was the self-proclaimed "Decider" regarding our failed war policies, Barack Obama could claim to be "The Continuator" as he has clearly shown a penchant equal to the former Administration for waging multi-front, multi force wars despite the gutting of our national integrity, blood, and treasure.

    The present political candidate "Circus of the Stars" would only be better if Jeb Bush and Al Gore were to suddenly announce they, too, were running for President.

    It is not "the Tea Party", Maxine. It is the failure and betrayal of those post WW2 politicians and leaders to govern "We the People" wisely.

    If the People, which the Democratic and Republican Parties no longer effectively represent, seek change and accountability through other forms of political activism (such as "the Tea Party") that's what this country was founded on until the re-writers of American History raised their pointed little heads.

    You might ask (and then again you might not) what my political affiliation is?

    I am an American first and an Independent second.

    If we fail to begin thinking for ourselves we will deserve the goverment we get and all that comes with it.

  8. Lets cut through the crap: The 45% number is in reference to federal taxable income only!

    When you look at Payroll tax, Medicare, State, local and sales tax virtually 100% of Americans pay one or more of the above taxes, including the unemployed, all of which are disproportionately weighted to the poor and middle class and in most cases exempt the wealthy on most of their income altogether. So this idea that 45% of people pay no taxes is a complete lie fabricated from the partial truth that 45% of the people have no federal taxable income.

    Class warfare has been waged by the rich against the poor and middle class for generations. Pointing it out doesn't mean you started it or are even waging it. What is simple minded is to not fight back when you are so obviously under attack.

    As for the Tea Party, The are just republicans repackaged because the brand was so badly damaged during the Cheney/Bush Administration. If you don't believe that, then look at their voting record in congress versus "establishment republicans: zero difference.

    As for your putative political affiliation, I could care less. What I care is that you believe tripe like "45% of people pay no taxes at all". Please, you can have a view about taxes and their impact on the economy that is different than mine...fine. But I ask that you at least analyze some of the usual Republican talking points you are using before you present them as objective facts.

  9. "Maxine" -

    Interesting spasmotic reaction.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Could you please state YOUR sources?

    Seems that was the point of your missive.

    By your definition if one pays sales tax (which we don't have in Oregon, as an aside) then one pays "taxes".

    Again, when you rely on simple minded arguments and simple minded examples you are generally simple minded.

    Also, when anyone says "I don't care..." it is a red flag that - in this case, you - truly don't care about any other position than your own.

    Which seems to me to be part of the problem with both the Democratic and Republican parties and their more "die hard" members, or as is the popular term, "extremists".

    Tea, anyone?

  10. Here is my source:

    Of course paying something called a"tax", as in "sales Tax" is paying a tax. Just because you live in Oregon doesn't mean you haven't paid sales tax. Every state that borders us has a sales tax. Ever bought anything there?

    As far as I can tell your arguments are little more than calling me names and and belittling my opinions with no supporting information.

    Of course I care about your position, otherwise I wouldn't be responding to you. But I totally disagree with you.

    Please read the link I have provided you. You might change your mind about somethings. Or you might not. That is your right.

  11. Thank you for providing the link.

    Good, spirited debate/dialogue.

    I don't think either of us called each other names.

    I do think we agreed to disagree and found the common ground of respect along the way.

    Would that others could do the same so easily.

  12. I'll call ya out anonymous-es .. lets see how man-y push-ups-pull-ups you can do ..and how much food you actually grow that you eat and if the last place you ran to was your rants and raves on politics ...turn off your tv... the 2 party system has turned U.S into the divided state of anarchy...clean house!

  13. The whole issue of our tax code is complex to say the least. It's hard to argue that the wealthy are not paying their fair share when the top 10% pay around 70% of the federal bill. Many argue (specifically in this thread) that there is way more to taxes than just the Federal tax. True again, however some States have no income tax, only sales taxes, some have both ... "Rich" people pay a huge percentage of both those items as well. In high sales tax States, you still see allot of Mercedes Benz driving the roads. Payroll tax: Well again it's true as a percentage of income the payroll tax does effect lower incomes, but not to worry, most are eligible for the EITC (earned income tax credit) that refunds then those monies. The bottom line ? As we see here it depends on who you talk to. I for one, am one of those rich guys that pays a "s@$t load" of taxes on all levels, Fed, State and Property. The older I get the harder it is to write those checks. The waste, the needless spending, the abuse of power by all politicians of all party's at all levels is just disgusting. I could check out today and live on a beach anywhere with no worries. I do however have lots of employees whose families, whose children
    rely on me for their lively hood. That's hard to turn your back on but awfully tempting based on the way our Society is heading.

  14. Anon @12.54pm,

    I commend you on your sense of obligation to you employees. This type of awareness of a social contract between communities, business and the citizens is all to rare today and becoming rarer.

    It is clear that the prevailing ethic now is to pretend that there is no mutuality of obligation to the community. Business far to often sees on obligation to it and that when things become difficult, abandoning the community doesn't even take a first, let alone second thought. So again, I commend you for your sense of duty.

    Having said that I would like to also point out that though it may seem burdensome and unfair that the top 10% pay 70% of the toatl federal taxes collected, it is also true that the top 10 % also control 75% of the wealth in this country. When you look at those to things together, things seem much more fair. I would submit that in fact that it shows that the wealthy are getting off easy on 2 accounts:

    1. paying 70% of the total when they control 75 % of the wealth seems like they are not carrying the same burden in absolute terms as the rest of the country, because this implies that those who control only 25% of the wealth are paying 30% pf the bill.

    2. In relative terms the inequity is larger, because the portion of wealth that the Top 10% need for survival is miniscule compared to their total wealth. So the Impact of the amount they pay on their ability to live and be free is very small. Whereas, the portion of the wealth that the Bottom 90% need to survive is a majority of the thier wealth, hence the taxes they pay has a much greater impact on their ability to live and be free. At the very bottom of the scale living is 100% of the issue, freedom is luxury.

    I do not begrudge your wealth, as I am a wealthy person as well. But I am mindful that our system is not fair, and is becoming less fair all the time.

  15. Okay, lets follow your logic. You state that the top 10% of the wage earners who pay 70% of the taxes also control 75% of the wealth. Fine, with the very, very, very small exception of inheritance and luck, how do you think that 10% acquired the wealth !! Well, they worked hard, risked capital, saved, invested and so on ... By taxing more you take away incentive, ie lower overall revenue. Why would I "risk" that next million dollars of capital if my after tax return is so low ?Answer is, I won't.

  16. I does make sense that the large taxpayers control more of the wealth than the small/non taxpayers. With the exception of the inherited wealth and the "blind lucky", its seems reasonable that hard work, capital investment and risk would produce wealth. It also appears that wealth and being wealthy brings with it a negative connotation these days ... Thats too bad.